R U OK Day: what if the answer is no?

Clodagh is a clinical psychologist from Western Sydney Local Health District’s mental health services team.

R U OK Day sends a powerful reminder to the community to check in with friends and family, but what’s the best way to have that conversation?

Western Sydney Local Health District clinical psychologist Clodagh Ross-Hamid, who has studied the art of conversation, says people don’t need to be mental health professionals to have a meaningful conversation that encourages someone to seek help.

“About 65 per cent of Australians living with a mental illness do not access any treatment,” Clodagh said.

“It’s vital to know how to talk to people with mental illness and make them feel comfortable enough to talk to us through the art of conversation.”

If someone tells you they’re not okay, Clodagh said that an important step is to make that person feel validated.

“Validation conveys to a person that they’re feelings are real, valid and make sense,” Clodagh said.

“We don’t have to agree with someone’s perspective to validate them.”

Clodagh’s top tips to consider when speaking to someone about how they are going include:

  • Give the person your full attention
  • Reflect back what the person is communicating to you
  • Have a guess at what they might be feeling
  • Make sense of their emotions in terms of their experiences and history
  • Normalise their feelings. Everyone feels!

Clodagh says people should be prepared for someone to say that they’re not okay.

“Lots of people might shut down the conversation due to not knowing how to respond or they may be feeling anxious about saying the wrong thing, however there are ways to show your support and encourage the person to seek help,” Clodagh said.

“Validating the person’s current distress and then asking the person specifically what you can do to help is a great way to continue having the conversation.

“It may be as simple as checking in with them later with a text message, planning an activity with them, or helping them access professional services.”

Mental illness if very common in Australia with 1 in 5 Australians aged 16-85 experiencing a mental illness every year.

If you are in a crisis situation and would like some support, the following organisations can help you:

  • Mental Health Hotline (Open 24 Hours) – 1800 011 511
  • Doctors Health Advisory Unit Helpline (NSW) – 02 9437 6552
  • Lifeline – 13 11 14
  • Beyond Blue – 1300 22 46  36
  • Suicide Callback Service – 1300 659 467
  • Men’s Help – 1300 78 99 78
  • JMO Support Line – 1300 566 321

This year’s theme for R U OK Day is “Trust the Signs, Trust your Gut & Ask R U OK?”. For more information visit: https://www.ruok.org.au/